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This article was first published 1 year ago  » News » Opposition Has More PMs In Waiting

Opposition Has More PMs In Waiting

August 26, 2022 17:50 IST
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If the Opposition has any chance at the prime minister's job, it can happen only if they all stop dropping names and work at the grassroots-level, state-wise, suggests N Sathiya Moorthy.

IMAGE: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal addresses a townhall meeting in Bhavnagar, August 23, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

After a lull over the past weeks, once again the anti-BJP Opposition is back to their pastime of throwing up new and old prime ministerial nominees to take on incumbent Narendra Modi in the Lok Sabha polls of 2024.

Thus, in two days, they have produced as many names, those of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his veteran Bihar counterpart, Nitish Kumar.

The latter was already shaping up as a student leader when the former was a toddler -- but that should not be a yardstick for the nation's top job in the 21st century.


Of the two, Kejriwal's name came up from his deputy Manish Sisodia, now caught up with the law.

He is seeking to promote his boss the chief minister as the best bet against Modi -- though the former's name is yet to cross the Vindhyas and is to be known in the East, West and central India, not to forget the North-East. And they do not have the kind of delivery mechanism that made Modi a household name across the country once he had decided to pitch for the prime minister's job ahead of Elections-2014.

That includes social media, which may be a convenient vehicle now as then but that may not be enough for 'vote conversion', if Kejriwal is serious about it.

In the case of Nitish Kumar, it is again his deputy chief minister and RJD alliance boss, Tejashwi Yadav, who wants his boss up in Delhi, whether or not he became prime minister.

He covets the chief minister's gaddi in Patna early on -- and possibly as per any non-existing understanding between the two.

Hence, that is good enough reason for him to promote the cause of Nitish Kumar, whether or not the latter wants the prime minister's job or feels that he is up to it.

It is unlike when the NDA leadership of the Vajpayee-Advani duo sort of offered the 2014 prime minister's post to Nitish as early as 2004, if and if only the BJP did not make it on its own.

Even then it would have been Modi if the BJP won an absolute majority in 2014.

Modi, rather than the BJP won a majority when the time came, and the results are for everyone to see, hence.

Yet, if Nitish or Kejriwal had to take the queue, they would be in the tail-end as most Opposition names have already been mentioned and recorded.

There is Mamata Banerjee (TMC, West Bengal), K Chandrashekar Rao (TRS, Telangana), and even Uddhav Thackeray (Shiv Sena, Maharashtra), until he lost the chief minister's job.

In the melee, some even named M K Stalin (DMK, Tamil Nadu), who alone does not seem to have developed prime ministerial ambitions, at least not as yet.

IMAGE: Congress MP Rahul Gandhi leaves the Constitution Club of India in New Delhi, August 22, 2022, after attending the Bharat Jodo Yatra conclave with the representatives of various civil society organisations. Photograph: ANI Photo

The pity is no one, then or now, is talking about Rahul Gandhi for prime minister any more though the Congress is said to be the main Opposition party at the national level.

Nor even Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, whose name used to get mentioned between 2014 and 2019.

If an opinion poll figured that only five per cent of the Indian voters considered Jawaharlal Nehru the real architect of modern India, as the best prime minister, then the Nehru-Gandhis may have to scramble for a safe seat at least for one of them -- Rahul already having lost the family's Amethi bastion in 2019.

That makes all the current media discourse on the loss inflicted by Anand Sharma's exit as the campaign manager of the Congress party in Himachal Pradesh, and linking it to that of Gulam Nabi Azad in Kashmir some time ago.

In their late sixties or early seventies, the likes of Sharma and Azad are not going to make any difference to the Congress's poll fortunes -- just as they did not do so through the past so many decades.

The truth is that then and now, they needed the party more than the other way round. Because there is a vacuum at the top that cannot be filled now, and possibly into the future, their names sound extremely important.

They made themselves important as manipulators and managers of the party high command. Left to themselves, they too cannot win a single seat, including theirs, for the party.

It thus makes sense for the so-called high command to have preferred the aging Kamal Nath to the young and energetic Jyotiraditya Scindia for the chief minister's job in native Madhya Pradesh.

If the leadership had thought that Scindia had enough points for the BJP Centre to be able to pressure him to cross over, events and developments elsewhere later showed the BJP's tactic.

Of course, it's no different from that of the Congress through the hey day of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

IMAGE: Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath pays floral tribute to the newly unveiled statue of former UP chief minister Kalyan Singh on his death anniversary at the Kalyan Singh Super Speciality Cancer Institute and Hospital in Lucknow, August 21, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo/Yogi Adityanath Twitter

It is still too early to conclude which way the wind is blowing for and in the BJP.

Dropping MP's veteran chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan from the BJP parliamentary board and non-inclusion of any other party CM, starting with UP's Adityanath, reflects a mindset dating back to the pre-2015 internal fight for the top slot. At the time, L K Advani was still considered the chosen man.

It cannot be said of Adityanath, and not certainly Chouhan, who has generally kept to himself, unlike the other who has not missed a chance to be seen in BJP rallies and poll campaigns all across the country.

Denial of a parliamentary board seat for Adityanath, for instance, could mean a denial of Lok Sabha poll ticket for candidates of his choice.

It also means that Delhi might have to run a parallel campaign for getting its candidates elected -- whatever be Adityanath's disposition at the time.

This applies to Chouhan, Bommai in Karnataka and a host of other BJP chief ministers and frontline leaders elsewhere.

It was under near-similar circumstances that the Vajpayee-Advani duo, then in power at the Centre, was believed to have looked the other side when party chief minister, the late Kalyan Singh ended up losing the job in the late nineties.

That was after Singh had won 59 LS seats in UP against the party's national total of 182.

It went down to 29 in a national total of 180 a year later in 1999.

Now you know why 20-plus years later, Adityanath is said to be putting up Kalyan Singh's statue all across the state, as one-time BSP rival Mayawati was doing it for her more popular mentor, Kanshi Ram, when she was chief minister.

IMAGE: Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar and his spouse Sudesh Dhankhar meet with Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari, centre, in New Delhi, August 22, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo/Jagdeep Dhankhar Twitter

The same can be said of Nitin Gadkari losing his place in the BJP's exclusive panels.

Here, the message is also said to be for the party's ideological RSS parent, conscience-keeper and moral gate-keeper.

Gadkari, all along, has been seen as the choice of the RSS for prime minister, he having been party president for a term. No one has clarified if that is the truth.

Yet, when Gadkari, who is otherwise a lightweight leader even in native Maharashtra, outside of a select circle of older BJP leaders, for whom the party, the Sangh and the self, matter, not always in that order, is dropped from the party panels, it is linked to his not-so-very strong links to the RSS.

The message, accordingly, is that Modi, or the Modi-Shah duo, was seeking to put the Sangh in its place.

If so, it was to be expected. The RSS had betted on Advani for 2014 and very reluctantly embraced Modi, when he bulldozed his way into Lutyens' Delhi and without being a Parliament member even for a single term yet with the ambitions of becoming PM, straightaway.

It was how he had become Gujarat chief minister, without being a legislator or minister in the past.

Since Modi arrived, his team should have been aware of the limitations of the RSS and also the BJP.

Even if they were to hate him for his daring -- and no one in their midst has come down to that -- he is still their darling.

He and he alone can win the elections for them. Without him, there is still real apprehension that they could lose.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi descends from the Red Fort after addressing the nation on Independence Day, August 15, 2022. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

Today, if in contrast, the Opposition has any chance at the prime minister's job, it can happen, if at all they all stop dropping names and work at the grassroots-level, state-wise.

PM Modi's new-found allergy towards freebies could be a starting point as possible denial could sway away more votes from the BJP than any name, party or symbol.

A fortnight down the line, none other than the ruling DMK in Tamil Nadu has made out a case.

Even the DMK has done so only in the Supreme Court, wanting to be impleaded in the pending case, which seeks de-recognition of political parties offering 'freebies'.

The party is yet to take it across the state. No other regional party elsewhere in the country, or even in Tamil Nadu, has cared about it as yet.

Without breaking down the figures, it can be said that the recent opinion poll that gave five per cent voter-backing for Nehru as the best prime minister, indicates a slightly downward trend for the BJP-NDA though not Modi per se.

Price rise is becoming a key issue for more people than the BJP's Hindutva agenda.

All of it has a message for the BJP and Modi, yes, but even more so for the divided and dis-spirited Opposition.

Does anyone out there read the wriTIng on the wall?

N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and author, is a Chennai-based policy analyst and commentator.

Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/

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